Our first year of camp, I remember calling this caregiver who had just had three kids dropped off to her by their mother. She was overwhelmed and so hopeful that mom would get the help she needed and return for them. The kids came to our inaugural year of camp as 6,9, and 10 year olds afraid for what their future might hold. The youngest and oldest had an amazing week but the middle sister struggled, testing most of our strategies from training. We cherished every smile she gave us as it was truly a gift and a symbol that God was softening her heart. I still remember loading the bus to leave. She placed herself in the back of the line to board and as I announced her to walk the purple carpet to get back on the bus, she ran....like the wind. We quickly responded and it was finally grandpa, in his seventies that caught up with her in the golf cart. We could see them through the woods but gave them their space. She finally broke and with lots of tears and his Grandpa hat now on her head they returned to the bus. She boarded the bus with tears but smiling through them as the whole camp clapped for her.
Fast forward to year two, the kids were still in the waiting for their mother to return. They came back to camp greeted by 98% of the same staff ( miracle 1), but as the director my heart broke for the middle sister whose counselor was unable to return, because she had loved her through her hard moments with such grace and patience. We prayed big time over this vacancy. God provided just the right person last summer and we saw tremendous growth. The oldest son wept at the GRAD ceremony, wrapping himself in the handmade quilt that his Royal Family had signed as we affirmed all we saw God doing in him and calling him to be. The baby girl previously so shy and withdrawn brought us all to tears when she danced in the talent show. We check in with our families monthly and send Royal Mail reminding them of lessons and memories from camp.
This past month God prompted us to check on this crew. The caregiver called me back to report that the children had just been notified that their biological mother had passed away unexpectedly. Their waiting ended but not in the way we had prayed it would. The family attempted to raise money to bury their mother but was unsuccessful and when the caregiver called to inform me that the funeral home let her know that they would have to proceed with cremation, I knew God was calling us to be the family we claim to be at camp.
The caregiver did not ask for a thing but simply stated the kids needed some kind of closure. Within 2 days our camp team, utilizing local connections and our personal resources, put together one of the most sacred services I"ve ever attended. It was far from perfect but the kids were surrounded by their Royal Family and broken pieces of their biological family. All together we were able to model so much of what we teach at RFK, family, healthy grieving, trusting in God during hard times, creating artifacts of Gods goodness and it was no surprise that Psalm 23 was the verse the family selected. Yes you hear that verse often at funerals but this time it was different, because our babies had studied that scripture this past summer and buried it in their hearts. God is sovereign in all of His ways. I wish you could have seen their faces when members of their royal family turned the corner entering the room heavy with grief...I cried too as I was shocked by the amount of our team that took off work to be there. Our middle sister was overwhelmed and we saw that smile we love when both her year 1 and year 2 counselors walked in. Our baby girl literally ran from the table where her head had been down when she heard the voice of her counselor. Best of all was camp grandma and grandpa who traveled 3.5 hours and met bio grandparents. It was MLK holiday and I couldn't help but think what a beautiful reflection of love and service across racial lines this celebration of life was...heavenly family, royal family, what a picture of the Kingdom. The caregiver called me following the service just to say "thank you for being like family to all of us". I told my team later that night that more and more I am realizing that many of the moments I feel closest to God are the moments I am serving with them by my side.